Friday, May 30, 2008

Welcome to Onion Town

After a weekend playing in the mountains, it was time to get back to work. I left home around 5pm Monday. A quick stop to top off Rosie’s 4.5 gallon fuel tank and I was away. Traffic through downtown was not very heavy but the drivers seemed agitated, darting in and out of lanes, cutting each other off, and driving extremely fast. I made my way over into the HOV lane and tried to give the crazies plenty of room. By the time I was riding past the airport on the south side, I had counted no less than eight drivers who had been pulled to the right side of the road to be awarded a certificate of accomplishment for their display of driving skills by the Georgia State Patrol and a mixed assortment of county police and deputy sheriffs. One had been pulled over by a blue Harley Ultra Classic; it was the same color as the Georgia State Patrol cars. I was unaware that GSP had a mounted patrol.

Soon, I was rolling through downtown Macon on I-75, but the intense driving displays by my fellow travelers had not seemed to be subdued. More deputies and state patrolmen were dutifully handing out awards for being the biggest toolbox on the interstate. As I exited onto I-16 and began travelling eastbound, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that the majority of the erratic drivers had remained on I-75. I pray they made it to their destinations without killing each other.

I have not travelled I-16 in quite some time. In fact, it has probably been 20 years since I have ridden on I-16. As I rode along, the world around me changed from a mess of SUVs battling for title of “supreme idiot of the highway” to a calmer collection of vehicles strolling along a ribbon between woods of Georgia Pines. The longer I rode, the better I could smell the scent of pine. Between Macon and Dublin, I noticed an area that recently had been hit with severe wind damage. There was a path around 300 yards wide of trees with broken tops and debris scattered among them. The roadway was clear, but the evidence of damage that had occurred was still quite evident off both sides.

As I approached Dublin, I noted it was time for a fuel stop. I elected to use a familiar exit that we used to use a lot when I travelled I-16 during my college days. I rolled of the interstate and up the ramp for GA state route 441 and boy was I in for a surprise. The exit used to be home to a Speedway gas station and a McDonalds. Evidentially, commercial development discovered the exit somewhere in the last 20 years and every fast food chain in the world and several hotels have made their presence known. Things change even in small towns. A couple of gallons of gas and a roast beef sandwich later, I was back in the saddle and rolling down the interstate. I began to notice another bit of oddity. It seems for whatever reason; the GADOT has installed railroad crossing style arms on most of the ramps entering and exiting I-16 east of Dublin. I never was able to settle on the reasoning behind this addition, but I presume they can close an exit at will.

I soon found my way to the Vidalia exit and began meandering down a two-lane highway through the South Georgia countryside to Vidalia, Georgia (home of Vidalia Sweet Onions). The country side was a very familiar site. It could easily have been the roads that surround my South Georgia hometown. When I arrived in Vidalia, I once again was surprised to recall it had been 20 years since I had ridden through Vidalia and it too has grown. What I once remember being 4 or 5 red lights is more like 20 or more? The little quiet country town has grown substantially. Much to my delight, they even have a Hampton Inn now!

Tuesday morning I rolled into the parking lot in front of the client’s office. I quickly stashed my riding leathers and helmet and met with one of the principals of the firm. I knew I would enjoy this project when I discovered that their receptionist rode up to the office on her Harley-Davidson Sportster. Before the day was over, her husband had extended an offer to trade me straight up for his Harley-Davidson Softail which of course I politely declined.

When I started my return trip to the Atlanta area, it was hot and muggy. An overpowering all consuming heat that I recall from growing up in South Georgia. As I was heading out of town making my way to I-16, I noticed a bank displaying time and temperature. Their sign showed 100 degrees F. I wound my way through the countryside passing hog parlors, corn fields, old abandoned cars sitting under huge oak trees and was soon humming along the interstate. After a few miles the sky began to change to a dark blue, and the temperature dramatically dropped about 15-20 degrees. A few more miles and a fine mist was beginning to fall. As I had been so hot for the beginning of the ride, I elected to hold off on donning raingear and enjoy the cool. Just west of Dublin, I pulled off into the rest area and changed into raingear and the full-face helmet. Another 20 miles and the light rain had stopped and it began to get warm again. I elected not to stop and pull off the raingear as it looked like more rain was imminent.

I made my way to Macon and picked up I-75 North. A few miles north of Macon the temperature dropped again, the wind began blowing, and I rode into a pretty heavy rain storm. I smiled inside the full-face helmet – glad I did not stop again to pull of the froggtoggs. Another 30 miles and I was out of the rain and dealing with increasing traffic.

As Atlanta came into view, I made my way over to the HOV lane and away from the madness of the lane changers for the most part. As I began approaching a taxi that was in the lane to my right, he quickly changed into the HOV lane in front of me. I had to change lanes and pass him and then move back into the HOV. No idea what that was about. A couple miles later another taxi pulls the same stunt and then steps on the brake – what the heck?

I arrived home mostly dry except for some slightly damp socks just before sundown tired and ready to relax.

Total mileage 484.8 miles

Thursday, May 29, 2008

That's MY King!

Dr. Lockridge was the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, San Diego CA from 1953 - 1993. He entered heaven in 2000. A co-worker shared one of his messages with me this week. I thought I should pass it along. I'ts only three and a half minutes, anyone can stand that :)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mountain Riding (Rally to Ridgecrest)

Rolled out of the house on Friday around 10:30am and began the ride towards Asheville, NC. As I left the commercial business and the metro expressways, the scenery quickly changed to farmland, horses, chicken houses and the like. I could feel myself relaxing the further I rode as the scenery seemed really familiar and comfortable to me. Just outside of Gainesville, GA I could smell the wonderful aroma of honeysuckle. I instantly remembered when I had 11-acres in South Georgia, and the honeysuckle would grow on the fence line and how I could smell it from the bedroom of the house. The weather was gorgeous, sunny but not too hot. And, yes, I remembered to apply sunscreen to my face before I took out this time!

The further north I travelled the more beautiful the landscape as the North Georgia Mountains came into view. My travel path took me thru Dillard, Georgia. Every time I ride through Dillard, I remark about how beautiful the area is. If you are ever through the area, be sure to try out the Dillard House Restaurant. I did not stop there this trip, but can tell you from past trips that they serve mouth watering southern cooking. I stopped to get a coke and top of the fuel and another bike pulled in on the other side of the pump. The rider glanced over and said “Don’t you feel sorry for all of the poor saps out there having to ride on four wheels?” Yes, yes I do. I bet they have to pinch themselves every ten minutes to stay away in their boring minivans!

Kudos to the State of North Carolina, I had never noticed it before, but at the state line, North Carolina has a welcome center/rest stop, and it is not the run of the mill hum-drum welcome center. This one looks like a log home with a big front porch. It was gorgeous from the outside. The scenery in Western North Carolina was a splendor of natural beauty. The winding highway through the mountains revealed a myriad of the rock walls and lush green trees.

I arrived at Ridgecrest Conference Center before I was ready to get off the bike, but I managed to pry myself out of the saddle. The Conference Center staff was extremely helpful and welcoming. In fact an older gentleman volunteer was sitting out front in a rocker and welcoming everyone with a handshake when they rode up. After checking in, I found my room was in the same building as the registration desk. So, as I made two trips out to unload my bike and carry in my belongings, the greeter welcomed me two more times. The view from the conference center across I-40 is a clear panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and worthy of several extended glances. The team hosting the conference was quite hospitable and helpful. I visited with several riders in the hospitality room prepared for us.

Dinner in the dining hall was another typical dining hall grade meal. No complaints but nothing to write home about. Unfortunately, my riding buddy that had originally recommended this rally was unable to attend as he had a son graduating high school this same weekend, so I was going it alone. The majority of the other riders were members of riding clubs within the Baptist Church. They arrive in groups of 8 or more and hung out tightly together. I made my way through the chow line and set down at an empty table and wound up eating by myself which pulled a vacuum.

When things kicked off Friday night, they announced that there were around 350 people attending this year. I took a quick inventory of the various parking lots walking over to the auditorium and from the plethora of motorcycles. I would venture to guess that 350 was accurate.

Saturday started on a better note. I shared a table with several couples for breakfast and enjoyed visiting with them over a meal. I attended a session by Ed Obaugh, an 18 year veteran of the Hillsborough County, Florida Sheriff’s Office Motorcycle Squad, called “Ride to Protect Your Hide”. The session was a good reminder continuing to Search, Evaluate, and Execute when riding, and Ed drove home a lot of good points on proper Motorcycle Safety.

I participated in one of the numerous guided rides on Saturday morning. I elected to take the 188 mile trip to Boone, NC and Blowing Rock which included approximately 38 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I have always wanted to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway from end to end on a motorcycle. The trip Saturday did not come close to that goal, but it did provide a wonderful and scenic ride. When we pulled out, we had around 12 bikes in formation. After about 10 miles we began to encounter wet pavement, a pretty good wind, and ominous looking skies. The ride captain pulled the group over and quickly arranged for a second leader to guide those who wanted to abandon the trip to return to camp. Four bikes remained (including the Ride Captain) to continue the ride. We all donned our rain gear and mounted up. The other three bikes in the group were couples, and I enjoyed getting to know them. We were quite fortunate that it we never got rained on the whole time we were out. After carefully maneuvering through a good many twisties and switchbacks on the rain soaked roads, we turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. As we made the turn, there was a good amount of fog, but it soon lifted and we were driving on dry pavement.

The Parkway is a scenic route thru the Blue Ridge Mountains and is laid out on top of ridges allowing for a wealth of viewpoints. The turns are all long sweepers making it very enjoyable to ride. With a smaller group, we were able to make several stops at overlooks and take pictures and visit.

We pulled off the Parkway long enough to grab a bite to eat at the famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant at the intersection of State Highways 221 and 183 in Linville Falls, North Carolina just one mile off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The restaurant sits on top of the intersection of three counties: Burke, McDowell, and Avery. I wonder if they have to pay sales tax to a particular county based on where the patrons sit. A little research taught me that the food is cooked in Avery county, the waitresses pick up the food in Burke county, and it is served in either Avery or McDowell counties. The restaurant is owned and operated by Ms. Louise Henson and her daughter, Ms. Shirley Jennings. The fried chicken was off the hook. They specialize in country cooking, homemade pies and jellies and the remarkable part is that it is relatively inexpensive. This place needs to go on your list of places to eat.

Once we completed lunch we returned to the Parkway and rode until we came to a closure barricade. A part of the Parkway was closed due to a massive rock slide that had damaged the roadway prior to the weekend. We then picked up NC 226 and winded our way down the mountain and back to Ridgecrest. All told we logged around 7 ½ hours on the ride. I am confident I picked the right ride and was glad I made the decision to stick with it when the others bailed out. With the riding group down to four bikes and seven people, we had a lot of opportunity to get to know each other and some great friendships were made. During Saturday night’s worship service, Johnny, one of the men in my riding group for the afternoon, made a decision to accept Christ as his Savior, so I would have to say the day was a big success.

Sunday morning, all of those participating in the weekend took part in a Memorial Day Weekend motorcycle parade to a memorial service at Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery at Black Mountain, North Carolina to honor those who have given the last full measure of devotion to our country to provide the freedom that we enjoy.

Despite the schedule for the rally continued through Monday morning, I elected to pack up and head out after the memorial service so that I could spend some time with my bride before having to head out on the road to work another project.

The ride back was enjoyable with light traffic allowing me to once again enjoy the mountains and landscape of Western North Carolina and North Georgia. I always have enjoyed riding through the mountains in the fall when the leaves have changed and looking at the contrasts of colors that fall present. But this trip made me realize just how beautiful the mountains are in spring. The endless sea of rolling green and the aroma of all of the wildflowers in bloom are just as beautiful and worth a long steady gaze.

As I rolled into the garage at home, I took a glance at the trip odometer. Total mileage for the weekend: 550.1 miles. Gas prices were hovering around $4 a gallon. $3.89 at some stops and $4.09 at others, but the fuel prices were minimal compared to the enjoyment payback.

(*No cell phone photos were used in this post)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Honk it if ya got it

I was out with the wife in her cage and noticed the dual note horn had lost its lower note leaving it sounding like a Toyota Prius or maybe a 50cc scooter. Instead of paying the dealer $60 for a replacement, I took the opportunity for an upgrade. I selected the Stebel Nautilus compact air horn that a lot of my fellow bikers have used to replace sick sounding motorcycle horns. I am quite happy with this little puppy. It makes some noise (enough to make the timid soil their armour), and it has a pleasant, almost Ferrari sound to it. I found someone online who had a sound bite of it I include for your amusement. Here the Horn

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Home Sweet Home

You know I'm a dreamer
But my heart's of gold
I had to run away high
So I wouldn't come home low
Just when things went right
Doesn't mean they're always wrong
Just take this song and you'll never feel
Left all alone

Take me to your heart
Feel me in your bones
Just one more night
And I'm comin' off this
Long & winding road

I'm on my way
I'm on my way
Home sweet home
Tonight, tonight
I'm on my way
I'm on my way
Home sweet home
- Motley Crue

When my new boss asked if I could travel to St. Petersburg for a network installation project, my first reaction was “Sure! Sounds like a great bike ride”. I was to arrive in Florida on Sunday evening and be ready to work the first week of the project on Monday morning. I decided that I'd leave on Saturday and make a little detour on the way and visit my brother, mom, and friends in south Georgia and then ride the rest of the way to St. Pete on Sunday.

Saturday morning I finished packing and lashed down luggage, check to make sure I hadn’t forgot anything, rolled out of the garage, cranked the bike, closed the garage door and then realized I left directions to Sunday night's hotel on the dresser. So, back in the house to retrieve the directions. I headed over to QuickTrip to top off the fuel. (QuickTrip is a jewel of the Atlanta metro area that years ago set the standard of what a convenience store could and should be - clean, well lit, spacious, and well supplied). At 8:40am, I pulled out of QuickTrip (or as the locals call it "QT"), gassed and ready to ride. There was not a great deal of traffic so I passed easily thru downtown Atlanta and around Macon.

After a fuel stop near Unadilla and Vienna, I arrived at my brother’s house near Baconton, Georgia. Paula Deen went to school here at now defunct Baconton Elementary School where she fell in love with peanut butter balls (a recipe she features on her cooking show). I spent the day hanging out at my brothers. He recently had a pool put in. He had some friends over so I helped by cooking hamburgers for kids. My mom drove up from Pelham, so I assisted her peeling taters and tasting tater salad that she whipped up. That evening I rode over to visit mt friends Ray and Dawn. Several years ago when I met them, I was running a computer store in my hometown and was racing dirt track. Ray's son Michael started helping me with the racecar and before long he was my crew chief. Ray opened his shop to us and Michael soon was maintaining the car and his Dad's shop, and I was just dropping by for company. These days Michael is living in Mooresville, North Carolia (Race City USA) building chassis for Penske Racing.

Sunday morning I woke at 7:30am and could not get back to sleep. I had planned on dropping into the morning service at the church I used to attend in Albany but the service did not start until 10:30am. Unable to go back to sleep, I loaded up, said my farewells and started making my way across the state two lanes I knew by heart to Camilla, Moultrie, and Adel to reach I-75. A fuel stop at Adel and it was time for some interstate asphalt pounding. The running joke is Adel is so close to hell, you can see Sparks. (Sparks is 5 miles or so from Adel).

As I buzzed down I-75 south to Florida traffic was light and I drank in the surrounding country side that was buzzing by me. Near Gainesville, I realized I was low on gas. Low as in the fuel gauge said empty and the fuel light was on. How did I miss that? I noted a sign indicating a Cracker Barrel was 11 miles ahead, but about that time Rosie burped and died. I wiggled the powerless bike towards the right hand lane as we rapidly lost speed coasting. I popped the clutch a couple of times and Rosie refired and I hit the next off ramp for fuel. After getting refueld, I drove down the interstate the noted 11 miles and at noon wandered into Cracker Barrel for lunch. My timing could have been better as the local church crowd had descended and the place was packed. I found several bikes in the parking lot and managed to squeeze in a parking place. After an extended period of time, I dined on a open roast beef sandwich, a glass of traditional southern Sweet Tea and returned to the interstate. I projectile struck me in the cheek which I determined to have been a flying beatle. Unfortunately at 80mph it felt like being shot with a 22 caliber rifle. No blood, no big deal. After a few mile the stinging senstation stopped and only a little minor swelling on the cheakbone and all was well. About 30 minutes later a similar occurence took place with a strike between the top of my glasses and the visor of the half-helmet in my forehead. Funny little fatty tissue exists in the forehead, just skin over bone, so a bug hit there gets your attention. Again, no bleeding, no big deal.

I arrived in St. Petersburg, Florida at 3pm and began the process of finding my way to the hotel. After the first 5 minutes in St. Petersburg, I decided it would be best to ride with my left hand on my knee instead of the hand grip because there were so many other bikers to wave to as I rode thru town. This place was CRAWLING with bikes. Most of the other bikers were in t-shirts, shorts and no helmets. I wish them the best with all of that, I'll stick to the "all the gear, all the time" thing.

I arrived at the Bon Aire Resort Motel. The hotel sits right on the beach. It's an older motel but very clean and well maintained. The location is beautiful and accomodations are comfortable. I found Rosie a cozy parking spot in the limited parking in the inner-court parking near the pool unexposed to the busy road out front.

I unloaded, and was pleased to realize I had time to catch the last 150 laps of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega. Aftre the conclusion of the race, I quickly changed into a pair of shorts and began walking down the beach - something I have to do whenever at the beach.

While walking down the beach, I discovered this awe inspiring resort. The Don CeSar Resort. The resort was built to resemble the Royal Hawaiian Resort at a cost of $1.2 million in 1928 by Thomas Rowe. It opened in the Great Gatsby era, a time when it ruled at the hot spot for the Tampa/St. Petersburg area with guests like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lou Gehrig, and Al Capone. Rowe died and his estranged wife (of 30 years) assumed ownership of the "pink lady" much to her dislike. she let it go to the dogs for three years until the U.S. Army took it over for a sum of $450,000 and made it a wartime Veteran's Administration convalescent center for injured soldiers. After the war, the VA used it for their regional offices. Finally in 1967, the VA moved out because the governments budget could not cover the cost of repairs required to operate the huge facility. The building then set abandon and left to ruin until 1973 when it was rescued, renovated, and reopened. Since 1985, the grand hotel has undergone several renovation projects to bring the old girl to the superior level of grandeur it now enjoys as a Loews Hotel. The Don CeSar is listed on the Register of Historic Places and the National Trust Historic Hotels of America.

Returning from the walk on the beach, I put on a pair of jeans, donned my leathers, fired up Rosie and headed in search of some Gulf Coast seafood. I stumbled upon
the Wharf. The hostess said the wait was 30 minutes for a table, I opted to eat at the bar. The bar proved to be a wonderful discovery. It sits on the intercostal waterway with boats tied up to the dock surrounding the bar. The windows were all opened so the patrons could enjoy the cool breeze and hear the seagulls. Service was fantastic and I soon felt like a local. They served up a pound of hot steamed shrimp seasoned to the hilt that were very tasty.

We worked most nights until 10pm and just grabbed sandwichs for dinner. But we did break away from it all on Tuesday night to try out a recommended place of dinner, the Hurricane. The view was great from the outside dining which was complete with a little surprised dropped on our table by a seagull. The food was just ok and it took forever to get our food. It appeared that we paid more for the scenery than the food. But we caught an awesome sunset before returning to work.

Wednesday afternoon the new boss called and asked if I could work the second week of the project. As the drive home was so long, they offered to buy me a plane ticket home for the weekend. I rode over to my Dad's in Lakeland late Thursday night so Rosie could sit in the safety of his garage while I was gone. I flew home Friday and back to Florida Sunday night. On the ride back from my Dad's late Sunday night around 11pm on I-275, Iam in the left lane passing two cars that are side by side in the right two lanes, just as I clear the cars and start to signal to change back into the center lane, a kid on a riceburner flies between me and the car I was passing. He was donned in shorts, awife-beater and no helmet. If I was forced to guess, by the way he dissappeared from site, he was pushing 150mph. I wish him a lot of luck with longevity with that combination. My heart rate eventually settled and I made it back to the Bon Aire without issue.

Monday we worked until 1:30am. We made it back to the room around 2am. I laid down on the bed a died. Fortunately a Starbucks was located on the way back into the office at 8am.

Tuesday we managed to get out of the office and back to the rooms around 7pm. I hit the beach for a walk and grabbed a couple pics.

Thursday we managed to get out a little after 4pm, so I managed to walk down the beach, play in the waves a bit, sit in a chair on the beach and read for a couple of hours. For my last dinner at the beach, I rode back down to the Wharf for a pound of steamed shrimp.

Friday morning I awoke at 4:30am. Why I have no idea. I had the alarm set for 5, but woke up 30 minutes early. I decided to make the most of the situation, got dressed, strapped the luggage on Rosie and made my way thru the toll plaza, across the connector bridge and towards the interstate. I reminded myself to keep an eye on the fuel better for the return trip.

I'm on my way
I'm on my way
Home sweet home
Tonight, tonight
I'm on my way
Just set me free
Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

I'm on my way
I'm on my way
Home Sweet Home
I'm on my way
Just set me free
Home Sweet Home
- Motley Crue

I stopped at Lake City for gas, and a serving of maple pancakes and coffee at the Cracker Barrel before returning to I-75 north. Before long I was greated by the big peach and a welcome to Georgia sign.

In all their planning and infinite wisdom, GADOT has managed to make a mark on travelers on I-75. The interstate is a collection of construction zones from the Florida-Georgia line all the way to Macon. Amazingly, this construction has been going on since 2000 and is not anywhere close to completion. Between Valdosta and Cordele came the next gas stop and the opportunity to recall rural South Georgia and state not-so-maintained roads.

Near McDonough it was a Coca-Cola and bathroom stop. Atlanta soon came into view and an opportunity to appreciate that motorcycles are allowed to use HOV lanes. The trip through downtown is a scene of familiar sites, passenger jets on their final approach to the airport, the old defunct ford factory, Turner Field (home of the Braves), and the Varsity.

I arrived home around 1:15pm. The trip odometer on Rosie shows 1335.5 miles. I look forward to catching up on my sleep.